ASCO Will Change with the Times 

A Conversation with ASCO President Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP

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It’s an exciting time to be a doctor, especially one who treats patients with cancer. We are seeing advances being made at an unprecedented level, and they hold the promise of revolution in terms of outcomes of a cancer diagnosis.

—Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP

At the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting, The ASCO Post caught up with new President Clifford A. Hudis, MD, Chief of the Breast Cancer Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, for a glimpse of his plans for ASCO in the coming year, and his thoughts on being elected ASCO President for 2013–2014.


In broad strokes, what are the overarching goals of your presidency?

I envision several new things for ASCO. We will bring forward the ASCO Board’s strategic initiatives from the Board Retreat led this past spring by Sandy Swain [Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP, Medical Director of the Washington Cancer Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Washington, DC], including a focus on team care in oncology and a focus on the definition of value in oncology. We are going to begin to confront the growing problem of obesity and energy balance as it relates to cancer.

In addition to these initiatives, leading into our 50th Annual Meeting we will use this year to critically reflect on what we have done in the past, but more importantly what we need to do going forward, in order to best serve our members and their patients in the coming years. My goal is not for us to simply say how great we are but instead to use the occasion of the 50th anniversary to think hard and honestly about how the world is changing and how ASCO needs to change with it to have an even greater impact going forward.

I think we are approaching a similar point of inflection in clinical care and scientific advances. We are currently investing in infrastructure, and people are asking, “What are we getting?” with the plethora of genomic studies, electronic medical records, “big data,” and so forth. I think the answer is that we are getting better, more accurate, and more efficient care.

Specifically, I am optimistic that we will turn a corner in medicine, as society turned a corner 2 decades ago, and see remarkable and measurable productivity gains in multiple directions. I think we will start to develop ways to leverage all the information we now have at our fingertips, learn from it, and do things more efficiently, all of which will lead to higher quality care with better outcomes.


Can you elaborate on how emerging technology is changing cancer care?

The disease we call cancer is divided into more than 200 diseases already, and it is about to become further subdivided because of what we are leaning about the molecular biology of tumors. This means that it will be even harder for anyone treating a range of diseases to keep up with all of the accelerating advances in every disease. It also means that patients who have a “common” disease may, in fact, have one that is actually an orphan.

So, on the one hand, we will all need access to the kind of information that IBM’s Watson [computer that won Jeopardy!] and ASCO’s CancerLinQ might deliver. We may someday have these tools on mobile devices as well as our desktops. These are important initiatives that offer the promise of delivering the highest quality information at the point of care.

At the same time, being a doctor means engaging empathetically with our patients and their families, offering better understanding of treatments, side effects, and toxicities, and managing these optimally. To do this well, doctors will need to know more and more about a larger and larger range of treatments, and have the ability to manage patients with more subtle complaints and issues. Having access to more data and decision-making tools will greatly help us.


How will being ASCO President change your personal/professional life?

Fortunately, I work in a very large cancer center that has committed to supporting me through this time, and I have a great team that is stepping up to help me maintain my practice and research. Much of this is possible because of electronic communications and the ability to work remotely, which makes balancing these responsibilities much easier now than it may have been in the past.

In terms of my personal life, my wife and I are very busy professionally and our children are in college. We are lucky to have this opportunity come at this point in our lives when we can afford the time and the focus.


Have you considered why ASCO elected you President?

I am not sure I can answer that! At ASCO, our desire is to make sure that everyone who is interested in serving has the opportunity. I believe that there are thousands of ASCO members who would make great leaders for this organization. With 33,000 members, the talent pool is enormous. I’m just fortunate to have been able to be so engaged with the organization and work with so many great people, and to be in the right place at the right time to stand for election.

I am reminded of something I heard a few years ago when my son was entering college. The Dean at one of his friend’s schools made an observation at the beginning of the academic year, that as thrilled as he was with the freshman class of that competitive college, he was aware that he could have had the admissions committee reject 100% of those students and accept an equal number of other applicants from the applicant pool, and there would be no discernible difference in the nature of the class.

I feel that way—just lucky to have this opportunity but humbled by the skills and leadership abilities I see in so many other ASCO members. Simply put, I do not believe that I’m the only person who could lead ASCO, but I am honored and thrilled to have the chance.

It’s an exciting time to be a doctor, especially one who treats patients with cancer. We are seeing advances being made at an unprecedented level, and they hold the promise of revolution in terms of outcomes of a cancer diagnosis. I chose cancer medicine about 25 years ago because, even then, it was obvious to me that this field held the great promise of clinical benefit tied to exciting science. It’s truer today than ever. ■